The Unbridgeable Gap

Author and cartoonist Scott Adams colorfully describes one of the lamentable features of our current society as “two movies, one screen.”

The concept is that our reality has, for practical purposes, split into two.  Everyone has access to the same information, but we self-divide into two groups, each coming to believe in a version of actual reality that is mutually exclusive of the other.

This isn’t “glass half-full / glass half-empty.”  There, the essential truth remains the same: Both sides agree that 50% of the glass contains water.  The significance of what that means is a matter of perspective, but the fundamental premise is not in dispute.

Once upon a time, that’s how politics often worked.  Republicans might see a budget deficit and say, “let’s cut taxes and reduce spending (except on defense).”  Democrats might see a budget deficit and say, “let’s raise taxes on the wealthy and increase spending (except on defense).”

In that kind of environment, compromise and finding common ground is more likely—or at least possible.  Why?  Because both sides are anchored in at least one fundamental idea that’s the same.  Namely, that deficits are usually undesirable.  It’s a shared premise.

I admit this is a peculiar example in 2018, since neither party apparently cares much about deficits anymore, but I digress.

Unfortunately, there are fewer and fewer shared premises from which we proceed.  That affects how we process facts, not just how we assign significance to them.  This phenomenon eventually creates an unbridgeable gap.  We’re seeing that play out in a most dire way in the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation battle. Continue reading

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Father’s Day (Redux 2018)

It was.

In what has (apparently) become an annual Father’s Day tradition, I thought I would re-post my 2016 podcast tribute to my late father today.

This is the story of my favorite Father’s Day of all time, which, oddly enough, happened in October.

It should appeal to any Red Sox fan who remembers the dark days before 2004, and possibly to anyone who has a father.

Happy Father’s Day to all!

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In the Palm of God’s Hand

“Bacon’s favorite thing is love.  Even more than food.”

Bacon DollMy mom has told me some version of that at least a dozen times.

If you’ve ever been around my dog Bacon when you happened to be eating a meal, this is saying quite a lot.

This is a dog who, at the sound of the refrigerator door opening, suddenly materializes at your feet.  During a meal, he waits dutifully next to you, staring, with a look in his eyes that says, “REMEMBER ME?”  Of course, I remind my mom frequently that this is all behavior he’s picked up since he began living with her.

Despite his unending quest to get his paws on anything that falls under the kitchen table, the one thing that matters to him more is affection.

Bacon Tom Sofa 01If you’re sitting on the sofa with him, he’ll invariably walk over and lie down next to you so that there’s physical contact.  If he likes you a lot, he’ll fall asleep in your lap.  If you hold your hand by your side when you’re seated and he’s on the floor, he’ll position himself so that he’s ideally situated to get ear scratches.  If you’re close to him, but at eye level, he will look down, close his eyes, and gently push the top of his head into yours.

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Let’s All Make Fun of Tom’s Brackets (2018 Edition)

It’s no secret that my grasp of March Madness slipped dramatically as I moved deeper and deeper into my 30s.  Even a quick glance at my 2011, 2013, 2016, or 2017 brackets reveals my descent into abject ignorance.

But hope springs eternal, and I have a surprising amount of unfounded confidence in this year’s effort.  I have to admit, although it’s obviously my bracket, even I was a bit surprised at how things shook out once I sat down and actually contemplated the match-ups.

Let’s take a look:


 


I have the first round basically going to form, except perhaps for naps taking out Cross-Fit, which some would consider a major upset.  As the tournament unfolds, I think the most notable results will be Yacht Rock edging Seinfeld after the latter survives a grueling battle with naps, Papa John’s triumphing over Culpepper Legal in what can only be described as a fight to the death, and Echo Dot knocking off George Washington (the president, not the giraffe, whom I have losing in the round of 32).

Speaking of which, I think GW has the hardest road to the Final Four, by far.  Not only is Echo Dot in the way, but, just to get to Echo Dot, Washington will likely have to take out both cheesecake and Bruno Mars.  That is just a brutal road to San Antonio.  Meanwhile, the Dot gets its date with GW via steamrolling the Third AmendmentCheetos, and prom.

Looking at the rest of the field, I also foresee some nice showings by magnetism and life-like puppets, both of which I believe will advance to the Sweet Sixteen.  On the other hand, I have New Year’s Eve tagged as the biggest disappointment of the entire tournament, with an early exit courtesy of scrappy upstart turducken.

Ultimately, I predict that the breakout star of the tournament will be Alexandra Daddario.  I have her in the Final Four, facing off against the Dot.  Partially on the strength of her recent showing at the Dior Addict Lacquer Plump event in Los Angeles, I think she goes all the way to the finals in the most impressive fashion before falling to champion Space Force (whom I see narrowly beating perennial title contender Yacht Rock in the other semi).

Although I don’t like to put too much stock in late-season performance (as opposed to overall “resume”), I just think you can’t ignore what Space Force has done down the stretch to come out of literally nowhere to make a huge splash on the national scene.

Maybe I’m a fool for going with Space Force over an entrant with a much, much better overall body of work, but so be it—that’s why they call it March Madness, fans!!!

Enjoy the games!

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How Not to Message Gun Control

Every mass shooting brings with it a familiar cycle: Politicians offer condolences, lefty gun-control advocates attack those politicians on a number of fronts for doing so, we talk (argue) about gun violence for a few days on social media, and, much to the astonishment of the aforementioned advocates, nothing ultimately happens.

Gun-control proponents have even become aware of this pattern.  A Facebook image I’ve seen a dozen times this week, shared mostly by my progressive friends, reflects recognition of this reality.  Yet, the people posting it still don’t understand why this cycle persists.

Many of those friends fall into the same set of tired traps that perpetually confound activists and politicians.  As someone who is moderate on the issue of gun control, and who has no extremely strong feelings either way, what frustrates me is how easy it would be to avoid these pitfalls.

And, yet, despite over a decade of circling back to the same tropes, liberals seem not to understand the direct link that connects this flawed messaging to the complete lack of any policy victories whatsoever.

At a certain point, they must be asking themselves, “How can we semi-routinely endure awful mass shootings in this country and use those to push our messaging, and, at the same time, not achieve any sort of policy wins?”

Why can’t liberals (or even non-liberal gun-control advocates) win on this issue?  It’s a great question.  And here are the answers:

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Phabula Rasa

My trusty Galaxy Note 4 had served me well for three years, but it was time for a change.

I wasn’t happy about it.  I’ve never had any interest in having the latest or coolest phone.  The fact that I’m brand-loyal to Samsung might have been a clue to that effect.  And the idea of standing in line to get a phone seems insane to me.

Plus, providers don’t cut the same deals to long-term customers they once did.  Remember “New Every Two?”  No more.  Upgrading to a new phone would require I absorb the full cost of a product that cost several hundred dollars.

Even my original move to the Note 4 wasn’t a hasty one.  The Note 4 was my very first “phablet” (half-phone, half-tablet, GET IT?!?) and the first phone I ever had that didn’t have a physical keypad.  Despite my initial reservations, I had been nothing but pleased with it.

As a phone, a streaming video device, an MP3 player, a web browser, or a repository for more semi-useful dating apps than I care to count, the Note 4 fulfilled its functions adequately or better.  But the unit had begun to slow down.  Just after Christmas, performance got markedly worse, to the point that the phone would freeze or randomly reboot.

I can put up with a lot for the sake of keeping an old device, but the phone was now more or less unusable.

I caught a break in that I happened to be visiting Richmond for the holidays when my phone was on its last legs.  My presence there allowed me to visit my mom’s local Verizon store on Broad Street, which has always had outstanding customer service.  The rep was extremely helpful as I explained the problem.

It quickly became apparent that nothing could be done to save the “patient,” and, thus, I resigned myself to ordering the most current version of the phone, the Galaxy Note 8.  I skipped the Galaxy Note 7 for obvious reasons, instead opting for a non-combustible model.

When I returned a couple of days later to pick up the new phone, the same rep assisted me.  The process was simple, but there was the usual setup of the new phone while simultaneously transferring over photos, app credentials, music, etc, from the old phone.  I wouldn’t be able to keep my old phone, either, due to a trade-in deal of which I was taking advantage.  Once the transfer happened, my old phone would be wiped forever and sent to be refurbished.

As the transfer was about to begin, the rep noted that the estimated time was two hours and 54 minutes.  Given the amount of data involved, this didn’t make sense.  He quickly realized that there was a specific culprit: A massive number of text messages.

About 35,000, in fact.

He theorized that the original slowdown problem was likely the result of having so many SMS messages.  Having the texting habits of a teenage girl certainly seemed like a reasonable explanation for why my phone would practically break after 36 months.

I tried to delete a bunch of older conversations, but my phone was so slow that even that took a few minutes.  When he checked the transfer estimate again, it had only dropped to about two hours and 50 minutes.

Then he reran the estimate, except with no texts.

The new estimate was 10 minutes.

Naturally, he asked me if I would have a problem with simply setting up the phone without retrieving any of my old text conversations.  Being a bit of a nostalgia-addled digital hoarder, I hesitated at first.  Then I thought more deeply about what it would mean.  And about getting my Galaxy Note 4 in 2015.  And getting my enV many moons ago.

I remembered the cleansing power of a new phone.

Three years.  Three years of conversations that went nowhere.  Of embarrassing or regrettable remarks.  Of women I wish I’d never met, all things considered.  Of plans that never materialized.  Of hopes that never came to fruition.

I realized that Verizon was doing me a favor by getting rid of those texts.  A new page.  A fresh start.  An end and a beginning.

A blessed opportunity to move on, move forward, and forget a few things I never needed to revisit.

Ten minutes later, I had my Note 8.  Pristine and unsullied.  Not so much as a fingerprint on it yet.

And I suddenly realized that the clean slate I had been afforded was not only welcome, but long overdue.

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Best of 2017

News flash: I’m not as prolific a blogger as I used to be.

The first couple of years of the Axis of Ego saw me post at least once a week.  Usually twice.  Sometimes more.

Those days are lonnnnnnng gone.  This is only my twelfth post of the entire year, and a few of those dozen were re-posts of older articles.  One of them was my “Best of 2016” post!

But there’s a helpful upside to my part-time status: Putting together the “Best of the Year” article is much, much easier.

Something Special: The Mountaintop (4/10): This was the final episode of the Something Special podcast series.  The series covered the 1991 Washington Redskins’ championship season.  It was a lot of work, some of it tedious, but, technical glitches aside, all of it enjoyable.

Let Me Tell You About Sundays (7/14): I like my job.  A lot.  In some ways, more than any job I’ve ever had.  This one explains why.  I feel fortunate and humbled to be able to write for a living—even if it did take me over a decade to get here.

Real Americans (8/14): “It’s the best thing you have ever written.  I am very proud.” – My mom.

Timely Movie Review: The Last Jedi (12/20): This is very recent, but I think it captures and crystallizes some of the problems that a lot of people seem to have with Episode VIII.  The more I’ve contemplated this movie, the less enamored I am with it.  I wrote this review within 24 hours of seeing The Last Jedi, so I may have been even more harsh had I written this a week later.

And that’s it!  There’s not much else to report for 2017.  I’ll try to do better in 2018, but I think I’ve said some version of that each of the past two years, only to publish significantly fewer pieces than I did the year before.  I suppose anyone who is actually a fan of this blog (heaven help you) should be rooting for my unemployment.

Happy New Year!

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Timely Movie Review: The Last Jedi

I’m proud to say that I made it to The Last Jedi spoiler-free.

But I did collect one bit of relevant information prior to seeing it.  I saw that the Rotten Tomatoes score was a strong 93%, with a robust sample size of over 300 reviews.  It was an even more impressive 96% with top critics.  What gave me pause, though, was that the audience score tracked 40 points below the critics’ score.  I had never heard of that kind of spread in that direction.

Once I saw Episode VIII, the deficit made perfect sense.

The Last Jedi feels at once too much and too little.  Laid out on paper, the number of elements Rian Johnson attempted to cram into this film seems excessive.  Episode VIII is the longest Star Wars film ever at a whopping two hours and 33 minutes, yet, at the same time, it also doesn’t seem long enough to flesh out all of the necessary components.

That’s not to say there isn’t a lot to like.  The battle sequences are good, although there was probably one too many (again, note that runtime).  The score, as always, was phenomenal.  I thought Luke’s story had the correct conclusion.  Mark Hamill played him with the right amount of cheekiness, mixed properly with the cynicism he’s acquired since we last knew him in Episode VI.  Luke has always been my favorite character, and I thought Hamill’s performance was pitch-perfect, despite the fact that Luke is excessively jaded at the outset, a curious choice with which Hamill himself sharply disagreed.

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Papa, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?

In light of the recent comments of American hero and self-made millionaire John Schnatter, I thought it might be worth revisiting my once-debilitating obsession with his delectable cuisine. Enjoy!

The Axis of Ego

It’s safe to say that I’m a fat guy pizza aficionado.  Papa John’s is my favorite among the chain pizza “restaurants.”  In fact, placing a Sunday order to PJ’s is an almost-weekly ritual during football season.  Put simply, I’m a frequent customer.

Even if I had taken several days off from going to the gym, even if I had noticed a little more roundness in my face, even if I had eaten pizza at work earlier in the week, none of those fact patterns would have enough negative momentum to shame me into refraining from obtaining a pie (or two[1]) if the mood struck me.

That’s why it’s so remarkable that I recently found myself on to the Papa John’s website, my belly empty and my head full—full of mozzarella-covered visions of gluttony, that is—and wound up logging off in disgust without ordering anything.

What could cause such a strange—some…

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Flirting with the End of the World

With the passing of Stanislav Petrov, I thought it would be a good time to revisit his story.

I can say without exaggeration that Petrov saved the world in 1983.

The Axis of Ego

RussianEarlyWarningSystemIn my second run at a storytelling podcast, I thought I’d shift gears and shoot for something more historical than personal.

I tackle a crucial but probably underreported event that arguably affected just about every single person on the planet.

This is the story of the most important man in the world.

Chances are, you don’t know his name.

But you probably owe him a thank you.

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